Privatisation Is Sharp Practice

BEN LAWRENCE

BEN LAWRENCE

The phone rang at late noon and the caller was my colleague, the indefatigable nationalist, Prince Anthony Momoh. It was at an hour unexpected because Tony takes calls and rings at night. Without waiting for the usual collegial exchanges, he asked; “Where is Jabso?” Jabso is Chief Ajibade Fasina-Thomas, whose pen name in sports commentary in the 1960s was by that pseudonym. I replied that Jabso was in Atlanta, Georgia, with his wife and grandchildren. He doubted and sounded disturbed. This I could sense from my own end. Tony continued: “It could not be true because Jabso is stranded in Istanbul. He was robbed when he left the airport and I got his distress call to send $2,000. I struggled to get something but my bank had closed today before I got there. Our friend is in trouble”. He said he called on me to be sure of Jabso’s movement on the advice of his wife, Jane, because he would send the money to Jabso’s account number the morning after. I told him I spoke with Jabso two days before in Atlanta and that I thought it was a con trick. I gave him Jabso’s Atlanta number, which he had earlier, but misplaced. The whole plot was blown open. Tony called me back to say that it was 419. They played on his known concern about friends and his spirituality and this lawyer and journalist, an investigator par excellence, fell a game in the hands of petty criminals, but saved by his wife, the dutiful fashion designer. I spoke with Jabso 30 minutes later and he told me that they hacked into his daughter’s bank account to spring the plot. These are private operators, not public workers.

I bought a treated mosquito net from one of the shops police wives have now used to congest roads in Lagos. It was at JBC Pharmacy, 29 POWA Shop, Jagun Street, Ogba. Any reasonable man would expect that goods bought from pharmacies should be standard. I asked for a net for six feet by six feet bed and the man there said he had one for seven feet by six feet. I bought it only to find when the carpenter was fixing the net that it was four-and-a-half feet by four feet. I found that the manufacturers were Vestergaard Frandsen for Disease Control Textile S. A. Switzerland, with the trade name PermaNet. With a NAFDAC registration No. 04-7508 and produced in 2014, to expire in 2018, its batch number being 16458, there was no way I would have known that it was a pig in a poke. Perhaps, it is one of the nets supposed to be given free to fight malaria. I returned the product to the pharmacy, and they refused to return my money or change the good. You could read in their faces that they deliberately sold an adulterated product to me. And this is one of the shops under the nose of the police. How can one trust other businesses transacted in that shop? And they operate from the private sector.

From a year after Nigeria’s independence until the early 1990s, the Ikeja industrial district was a beehive, producing goods that served West and Central Africa. Iganmu, Agbara, Ilupeju and others enjoyed the same boom. It also spread to Ogun State, waking up areas like Ota, Sagamu, and Iperu that were mainly agricultural.

Kaduna, Kano, Aba, Benin, Port Harcourt, Gboko witnessed the same industrial surge. They were all private operators, not public concerns. They have all collapsed to Breton Wood’s Structural Adjustment Programme, SAP and bad government policy. In fact, Olusegun Obasanjo’s do-nothing policies finally foreclosed all those enterprises. The private sector could not organise to source its own power collectively. Obasanjo gave them licences to build power stations to no avail.

Who destroyed NITEL? That organisation had N100 billion credit as at the time it was handed to a private company, Pentacost, to manage. The business failed and they left behind N100 billion debt for NITEL to pay. We have seen the rot again in the power distribution sector in the hands of private operators, who have turned customers to milk cows for their owners, most of them former rulers and their cronies. Where is our contingency plan for alternative as the present structure is bound to crash?

Privatisation has failed anywhere it was introduced. The World Bank and IMF became marketers of privatisation and democracy in the hue of America and Britain under Ronald Regan and Margaret Thatcher. America gave it lip service but harped on its own type of democracy and human rights, which leaders there like Franklyn Roosevelt, John Kennedy and Jimmy Carter had pursued without turning it into a religion.

Breton Wood succeeded in hoodwinking some countries in the Third World short of Asia. In Latin America then almost all the states were run by generals installed by Washington. Remember Iran-Contra fiasco. But privatisation failed in all the countries on that continent. Chile painted a typical example of the thoughtlessness of privatisation. Augusto Pinochet, the military leader there then, privatised all government institutions. Water was privatised. The new suppliers hiked prices to the point that the people boycotted water supply from those companies and started to obtain supplies from other sources. The company went bust because they raised their rates astronomically. The government was forced to return to supply water at very low rate but made such profit it never expected. All the companies Goodluck Jonathan sold our electricity distribution to, will soon go into administration because in the greedy character of capitalists, they have created consumer resistance. This is to warn President Muhammadu Buhari that his committee is out of steps for recommending that our refineries be privatised. They should be commercialised, not without taking the interest of the people into account. I recommend to him an article written by Dr. Samuel Ogbemudia in The Guardian in 1999, titled Good Morning Nigeria. Oil is energy and energy is power. Power is a strategic resource, which Buhari should know as a first-class army general. It is not left for every Tom, Dick and Harry as we have seen in the last 16 years. Power is an all-purpose resource for industries, farms, services, and communication. When petrol importation, instead of exporting, became government policy, one wondered then the harm they were doing to machines, foods and services. Today, Nigeria takes petrol brought in mindless of the octane rating. And this has destroyed machines, tools, vehicles, and what have you. Privatisation failed in the UK and many other countries. Who constitutes Nigeria’s private sector but sharp commission agents, yoyo bankers, corrupt politicians and public officials who turn the people’s wealth to selves.

 

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